There are three things that I will never forget about my visit to the museum. One is the huge slurry wall. This is an original massive wall of concrete that was put into place when the World Trade Center was built in the early 1970s. There was fear then that the Hudson River could come pouring into the construction site, destroying everything. It held then, and it held again in 2001. It now stands proudly against one tower footprint several stories below ground as if to declare, “Unbreached. I did my job.”
The second unforgettable impression from my visit is the so-called Survivor Staircase. This is a set of concrete stairs that withstood the collapse of the towers and offered a few hundred survivors a way to clamber to safety. The stairs — worn, chopped, chipped, dinged and burned —are a centerpiece of the museum. I cannot imagine what that staircase means to those who used them on Sept. 11, 2001.
And finally, perhaps the most overlooked and misunderstood feature of the museum.
At the very bedrock is a jarringly bright, beautiful wall of blue backlit tiles. It rises two stories and runs about the length of a New York City block. The inscription on the wall reads: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”
At first you think this warm, colorful area is just there to give the visitor a respite from the inherent grimness of the subject matter of the museum. That is until you read the identifying plaque that describes the wall’s purpose.
In essence, it is a grave. Behind this Wall of Remembrance repose the remains of 1,115 unidentified victims of the attack on the World Trade Center. It is their tomb. Here, 70 feet below ground. Buried where they died.
It fails even the most accomplished writer to try and plumb the depths of the emotions of that terrible day. How does one describe the enormity of it all? I have been trying to do that ever since 2001.